Agelastica alni, male
Until 2004, the blue alder leaf beetle Agelastica alni was thought to be very rare in Britain, possibly extinct although there were some historical records from southern England. Then in 2004 it suddenly appeared again in northern England in the Manchester area, Lancashire and Cheshire in 2006 and Yorkshire in 2014. It was found in Wales in 2013 and in southern England in Hampshire in 2014, mainly around Southampton*. I found it myself for the first time in Hampshire in 2015 near Eastleigh.
I searched for it in Wiltshire in 2016 but couldn’t find it (not that I looked that hard) but of course it was only a matter of time before it arrived. So it came as no surprise when I received an email from David Lawman containing a couple of specimens he photographed in Bentley Wood in south Wiltshire on 11th June. Coincidentally the same day I received an email from Anthony Coles containing a photo of a couple of carded vouchers he found on 2nd and 3rd June in Foxham near Chippenham, north Wiltshire. Although in both instances the photos looked pretty convincing, they were a little blurry (and as I’ve only recently taken on the role of county recorder and I’m not an expert on chrysomelids) I passed them onto David Hubble for a second opinion. Dave runs the Bruchidae & Chrysomelidae Recording Scheme and is the author of the Keys to the adults of seed and leaf beetles of Britain and Ireland and the about to be published Leaf Beetles. Dave confirmed by return, as we all suspected, that they were indeed Agelastica alni.
Anthophora quadrimaculata, female
I photographed this Four-banded flower bee Anthophora quadrimaculata during a weekend bee workshop run by Steven Falk, author of the recently published Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland. I think it shows the diagnostic bluey-grey eyes rather well. The course was just one of many hosted by Sallyann Spence at Berrycroft Hub on a working farm just north of Swindon at Ashbury on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it, excellent company, good weather and we even got driven up onto the downs in a 1977 Daimler Pinzgauer high-mobility all-terrain 6WD ex-Swiss army military utility vehicle… what’s not to like? Read more
Cupido minimus – male
The Small Blue Cupido minimus is the UK’s smallest resident butterfly. Females are chocolate brown whilst males, like the one pictured above photographed recently at Martin Down, have a silvery-blue dusting of scales near the base of the wings. The sole food plant is Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria and so it is reliant on the type of grassland habitat where this plant can flourish. It favours areas with broken ground.
Melolontha melolontha – Male
I’ve not posted for a while. Working freelance has kept me busy and much of my spare time has been spent either keying out specimens, uploading insect and wildlife records, writing reports or more enjoyably attending various insect workshops. At the last one, on Caribidae (Ground beetles) I got chatting to a young lady at the microscope opposite me. Ashleigh works in Edinburgh as a curatorial assistant (Entomology) for National Museums, Scotland and I mentioned that sometimes flying beetles get attracted to my moth-trap. Not quite so welcome are the big, up to 30mm long ‘Spang Beetles’ or ‘Billy Witches’ more commonly known as the Common Cockchafer Melolontha melolontha.
Stretching on red spindle stems through still sleepy foliage to find the warmth of the vernal sun, this has got to be one of my favourite Spring flowers. The Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa is a splendid sight when its tiny stars form a white carpet on a woodland floor.
The six white petals (technically its sepals) are sometimes streaked with just the slightest hint of purple-pink and can be softly shaded with lavender on the reverse. A delicate blue version Anemone appennina is sometimes grown in gardens and often becomes naturalised which may account for the odd colour variation.
It’s found flowering as early as March, but Spring appears to have been a little late this year so enjoy them while you can. These were photographed at West Woods, near Marlborough, Wiltshire.
Volucella bombylans – male
The hover-fly Volucella bombylans, male pictured above, uses Batesian Mimicry to imitate the Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus Lapidarius. Batesian mimicry is where a palatable or harmless species has evolved to imitate the warning signals of a harmful or inedible species. In this instance a stinging bumblebee. It is named after the English naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892).
Volucella pellucens – female
Here’s a photo of one of our largest flies, the Pellucid or Large Pied-hoverfly Volucella pellucens that I took back on the 8 July 2012 in Marlborough while I was in the middle of a RiverFly survey on the River Og. Pellucid means transparent or translucent and in this instance refers to the ivory-white band across the abdomen, which if caught in the right light enables you to see through its middle. This and the dark spot on each wing makes this species quite easy to identify in the field.
As I left the office for lunch the other day (Wednesday 28 January) I saw my first butterfly of 2015, a rather tatty Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta similar to this one I photographed last year. This took me by surprise momentarily as it was quite a cold day. It was fluttering around inside the glass canopy that covers the Holly-lined pathway that leads to the entrance of the building and that I suspect was the reason. The combination of the low winter sun and the shelter from the icy wind had warmed it sufficiently to have woken it from its slumber.
The Red Admiral is predominantly a summer migrant that most often arrives in the UK in May and June but a small population do overwinter in the south of Britain and therefore this butterfly is also considered a resident. Unfortunately this hibernation strategy is a risk as many individuals will not survive our winter unless conditions are mild.
However, global warming may help it to become more firmly established as a resident species in the future.
Have you seen your first butterfly of 2015 yet?
I used to live in what is now called Royal Wootton Bassett. It was just plain old Wootton Bassett when I lived there. But then that was before we were flying back union jack covered coffins from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thankfully most of our troops are back home now.
On sunny days in July I’d often find this tiny moth in my equally tiny courtyard garden basking in the sun. When I had to move home, there it was again in my new garden near Marlborough. Now much as though it would have cheered me no end to imagine it had followed me, perhaps hidden amongst my many books, there had to be a common connection. After giving it some thought I came to the conclusion that it was either attracted to mint or marjoram, or both. Read more